Biden returned to Camp David diplomacy for the first trilateral summit with Japan and South Korea


President Joe Biden is using the presidential retreat at Camp David to bolster diplomacy — holding the first trilateral summit with Japan and South Korea, two countries that share a rich history of confronting shared security challenges.

Biden’s summit with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol is a show of strength as the countries grapple with North Korea’s continued provocative behavior. It comes as the president seeks to deepen ties with allies in the Indo-Pacific amid concerns about a rising China.

On Friday, Biden will host the leaders at a secluded retreat in the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland, where they will deepen security, technology and economic cooperation between the three countries, senior administration officials said.

The leaders will institute annual military exercises, including regular ballistic missile exercises, and discuss new intelligence-sharing agreements, officials said. They will move to establish a three-way hotline for leaders to consult during crises and formalize the first-ever trilateral summit as an annual event.

The summit will fall short of creating a trilateral collective security agreement, but will “underline that a challenge to any one country is a challenge to all of them,” a senior administration official said.

The meeting will mark the first time Biden has hosted foreign leaders at the Camp David retreat, the site of historic diplomatic negotiations for past presidents. Biden will greet the leaders at Camp David on Friday morning for trilateral meetings, and they are expected to hold a joint news conference at the end of the summit.

The opportunity for tripartite progress between countries is not always given. Relations between Seoul and Tokyo have been marred by decades of tension and mistrust, including a dispute between the two countries over Japan’s forced labor during its occupation of Korea.

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But in the face of North Korea’s continued missile threats and China’s military maneuvers in the region, Kishida and Yun have gone to great lengths to put those differences aside. years. U.S. officials see the job as an important step in cementing a trilateral partnership that was once thought unimaginable.

“China’s entire strategy is based on the premise that America’s number one and number two allies in the region cannot come together and come on the same page,” Rahm Emanuel, the US ambassador to Japan, told the Brookings Institution on Wednesday. He said the tripartite partnership is “a foundation that changes all calculations”.

Ahead of the summit, South Korea said it believes North Korea is preparing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launch and other “provocations” or that joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea begin next week. A Korean lawmaker explained through the country’s intelligence agency.

The U.S. expects criticism and reaction from Pyongyang and Beijing around the summit, but a senior administration official said the president’s focus is “on making sure the region knows this trilateral partnership is at a new level and operating as a fundamental force.”

The gathering at the secluded, wooded retreat highlighted Biden’s work to revitalize coalitions after his predecessor’s tumultuous four years — a key argument of Biden’s 2020 campaign that extends into his re-election bid.

Since the start of his administration, Biden has sought to draw closer to Asian allies such as Japan and South Korea, in part to counter an ascendant China. Biden’s first foreign presidential visits to the White House were to Japan and South Korea, and he will visit the countries again in May 2022.

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The leaders held trilateral meetings on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Madrid last year and at the G7 in Hiroshima in May, but the Camp David meeting will be the first stand-alone summit for the three leaders.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan held annual meetings with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts, sitting in Annapolis, Maryland, less than three months into Biden’s tenure.

Biden has worked to develop his personal ties and cooperation with South Korea and Japan. Biden and Kishida have touted efforts to strengthen their country’s military alliance, and the two worked closely as the U.S. sought to rally allies against Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“I don’t think there’s ever been a time when we’ve been closer,” Biden said when he met with Kishida in the Oval Office in January.

During a state visit to South Korea at the White House in April, Biden and Yun announced a new deal to deter North Korean aggression, including a U.S. commitment to temporarily station a nuclear-armed submarine in South Korea for the first time since the 1980s.

The visit also included a memorable personal touch when South Korea’s president serenaded dinner guests with the line “American Pie.” In return President Yoon was presented with a guitar signed by Dan McLean, the musician responsible for the song.

Yoon’s father, Yoon Ki-jung, died on Tuesday, days before the South Korean president was scheduled to visit the United States.

A Friday meeting in a rural setting can provide an opportunity to deepen those personal relationships. A senior administration official said the background of Camp David was “definitely images and symbols of reconciliation, friendship and new beginnings … symbols that Camp David has long embodied.”

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Located approximately 60 miles outside of Washington, Camp David became a private retreat for American presidents, including Franklin D. Roosevelt started and called the stadium “USS Shangri-La”. President Dwight D. Eisenhower later renamed the stadium after his grandson.

When not at the White House or their home in Delaware, Biden and his family have frequented wooded spots on weekends. But this is the first time the President has hosted foreign leaders.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was the first world leader to visit the grounds in 1943, when the US president met Roosevelt while fishing in one of the site’s streams. The two weeks of negotiations that led to the Camp David Accords, a historic peace accord between Israel and Egypt, took place in a retreat during President Jimmy Carter’s tenure.

President Bill Clinton attempted another Middle East peace deal in 2000 when he hosted Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat at Camp David, but those talks ultimately failed to reach an agreement.

President Barack Obama was the last US president to use the grounds for diplomatic meetings in 2015 when he hosted Gulf leaders. Former President Donald Trump considered inviting the Taliban to Camp David in 2019, but dropped those plans after the group took credit. The blast killed 12 people, including an American soldier.

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